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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Racial issues discussed

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Panelists at a discussion Tuesday on racial relations and minority males mentioned the need for more mentors, jobs, role models, equal access to opportunities, school improvements and funding, open dialogue and mutual respect.

Some socioeconomic and other disparities also were pointed out during the discussion and in a handout.

It was the second such panel discussion. This one was held at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center (the former Henry County courthouse uptown) and attracted about 20 spectators. Sammy Redd, coordinator of college access at New College Institute, moderated.

Panelists were Suzanne Bryant, a retired engineer; Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry Community College; LaDonna Hairston, president of the Give Back Foundation; Helen Howell, a Martinsville teacher and founder of the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers; Elizabeth Jones, Democratic candidate for 16th District delegate; Kelli Krumenacker, a lawyer; and Whitney Redd, a therapeutic counselor.

Among the disparities cited in a handout, nationally, blacks had significantly higher percentages of poverty, child poverty and infant mortality than whites; black men were paid substantially less than white men; and black men had significantly higher unemployment than white men.

Locally, citing data from the Harvest Foundation K-12 Initiative, the handout gave statistics showing a significant narrowing or elimination of achievement gaps between black and white fifth-grade students in Henry County and Martinsville schools on reading and math Standards of Learning tests between 2002-03 and 2007-08.

But some panelists said there still are some racial disparities in academic achievement in local schools. They did not give specific examples.

Jones cited the need for job growth and reduction of high unemployment in Southside as well as the need for improvements and more funding for public schools.

Howell talked about the success NSBE has had exposing students — some of them from disadvantaged backgrounds — to educational, career and college exploration, leadership and other activities and how that has expanded their horizons and inspired them to achieve.

She and other panelists cited the need to identify students’ strengths and interests early, to nurture them, to have positive role models, to mentor both students and their parents, to instill in students early on that they should expect to go to college or trade school, and to let them know about career opportunities.

Howell cautioned against underestimating children. Rather, she said, people should help them develop their potential.

Several panelists said parental involvement is key to student success.

Hairston said resources should be in place to help people succeed in college. She also cited the need to come together to discuss and resolve racial problems or issues going forward, because the past can’t be changed.

Sammy Redd said people seem to be uncomfortable discussing racial relations, and they tend to either want to retreat and not discuss the topic or lash out.

Godwin said diversity training is important.

Krumenacker said, “We’re tentative. We hold back because we’re afraid of offending anybody. ... I truly think people are afraid to talk about it.”

When asked if she thinks racism exists in the area, Whitney Redd, the youngest member of the panel, said it may exist but it is not as bad as in some other areas where she has friends.

Howell said she thinks it still exists in the area, but that people do things unconsciously. She cited the need for diversity training and understanding of people’s cultures.

Krumenacker said she sees discrimination across color lines. “It goes both ways.”

The panelists then discussed the difference between racism, prejudice and discrimination. says: “The differences between prejudice, racism and discrimination are for starters, that prejudice can be applied to any situation. People can have a prejudice about liking a certain brand over another, or a certain group of people over another. Racism applies specifically to preferring one race over another, while discrimination applies to the ways the things people have a prejudice about are treated.”

Jones said at one point, “It’s bigger than a minority issue,” and she cited the need to look at poverty.

Education is critically important, she said, adding that she feels some schools are underfunded and students are not getting a 21st century education. She also cited the need for livable wages and health and retirement benefits.

At another point Jones said, “Our schools are in trouble. I have some plans. ... research based.”

Some panelists talked about the need to eliminate racial sterotypes, such as that black males tend to be good on the football field or basketball court or as entertainers, but not scholars.

Sammy Redd said the thought of going to college is terrifying for some people.

Whitney Redd and others talked about the lack of professional and successful role models for minorities.

But Kruemenacker pointed out there are black lawyers, doctors, political servants, etc. in the community, and there are a lot of white people in the area who have socioeconomic and educational issues, not just blacks.

Godwin said whether the driver for problems or difficulties is race, economics or something else, she thinks mentorship would help.

Panelists urged mutual understanding of other people’s cultures.

Krumenacker said people should do unto others as they would have them do unto them. She also cited the need to mentor students’ parents, some of whom mentor are out partying and out on the streets.

Whitney Redd said, “Be accountable; be knowledgeable; be changeable.”

Sammy Redd said don’t judge or prejudge.

Godwin said PHCC is racially more diverse than its service area and that it celebrates diversity. In the fall, PHCC began an African American studies specialization. “We think it will be very, very popular with students,” she said. She added it will be an opportunity to celebrate cultural issues and discuss barriers.

Virginia Renegade Sports sponsored the event.


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